By Dr Suzi Gage, experimental psychologist and member of the British Science Association's Council.


In the Telegraph on Saturday, Cristina Odone argues that her 12 year old daughter, who has a ‘literary bent’, shouldn’t be forced to do GCSEs in science if she wants to pursue a career in the arts.

There’s plenty of misinformation in the article, which seems almost willful in its attempts to troll (from thinking the ‘E’ in STEM represents Economics – it should be Engineering, to claiming that Alan Turing killed himself because he was a mathematician, to claiming this is a ‘women in science’ issue), but to me the most egregious mistake that Odone makes is to think that GCSE science is only worthy of undertaking if you plan a career in the field, and that to anyone interested in the arts it’s a waste of time.

If Odone wants her daughter to succeed in any field, she shouldn’t be encouraging her to specialise before she even hits her teenage years (Odone’s daughter is currently 12, according to the article). GCSE science teaches children a number of things, which can inform and enhance their enjoyment and abilities in any number of other subjects. Science teaches us the importance of evidence, and critical thinking about the world around us. And it helps us understand the world – how our bodies work, how our televisions work, how we can treat disease, how we can travel to the moon.

Science and the arts don’t exist in silos. They influence and inform each other, and have done throughout history. Consider Leonardo Da Vinci – his understanding of biology led to some truly spectacular artwork.

And some of the finest literary works are informed by science, from George Orwell to Philip K Dick to Alan Moore to Ian McEwan. Our education system is supposed to give children a grounding in culture that will set them for life.

I, for one, am incredibly glad I did an A-Level in English literature. Like Odone’s daughter, I had a literary bent as a child (and still do), voraciously reading novels throughout my childhood. I think my reading, and my English A-Level, have informed my science, and certainly my science writing, just as science GCSEs can inform and enhance an understanding and enjoyment of the arts. In fact, one of the books I studied at A-Level, Regeneration by Pat Barker, was quite possibly the deciding factor of my acceptance to UCL, as I discussed it at great length during my interview to study Psychology there. Culture encompasses the arts and the sciences, and a belief that two years of studying science is a ‘waste of time’ is naïve.

The British Science Association wants to make science a vital part of culture and society. Why? I think my friend’s 10 year old daughter puts it best: “Dad, science doesn’t ever end does it? …That’s why it’s always useful for thinking about the universe.”